- A playoff shakeup was needed
While it may not be enough, a shakeup at the end of the season was needed. The addition of a road course and a short track are absolutely sound moves. Las Vegas? Meh. It replaces Chicagoland, so it’s pretty much an even trade. Charlotte might not have been the best choice of a road course, and it’s probably not what most fans had in mind—there’s a pretty big difference between a true road course and a roval, but remember, tracks have locked down their deals for the next several years, and Charlotte probably wasn’t going to budge on their playoff race. At least it will be run during the day.
The change leaves the playoffs with one road course (Charlotte), two one-mile ovals (Dover and Phoenix), two ovals shorter than one mile (Richmond and Martinsville), one superspeedway (Talladega) and four intermediate tracks (Las Vegas, Kansas, Texas and Homestead). That’s still one intermediate too many. The New Hampshire race should have remained a playoff race. Overall, though, it’s a decent mix, and fairly representative of the full season. I give it a B minus.
- The lead-in needs work
Moving Indianapolis to the final regular-season race makes very little sense. It’s the least compelling and least competitive race on the Cup circuit year after year, so why make it so pivotal? There’s very little chance of a last-minute unexpected winner squeezing into the
playoffs, but a great chance of a strung-out field with one team dominating.
Two suggestions here. One, and the easiest, would have been to make Darlington the last regular-season race, giving teams the following week off leading into the final 10. Darlington still races more like an intermediate than anything else, but has produced better racing than Indy has.
The other, and my favorite, would be to move Talladega out of the playoffs altogether and make it the last regular-season event. This accomplishes two things: it gets the craphoot nature of a restrictor-plate race out of the championship picture, and it would make the end of the regular season anything but predictable. Teams already in the playoffs would not have to worry about being tangled in somebody else’s wreck, and there’s an excellent chance for an underdog team to squeeze in under the wire. It would certainly make nothing a foregone conclusion going in, and the drivers at the bottom of the top 16 would really have to sweat it out because another winner could end their title hopes.
- Maybe the worst call of the whole thing
What absolutely should not have happened was returning the spring Richmond race to a Saturday night show. The track says it was at the fans request, and I have to wonder what race those fans were watching because the spring race this year, run in the daytime, was one of the best that track has hosted in recent memory. Richmond generally produces a good show, but the daytime races have the potential to be even better. Why on earth would anyone want a race with less competition?
I don’t understand the allure of night races. They rarely produce racing that’s even close to as good as a day race on the same track, let alone better, and that aerodynamic dependence everyone professes to hate? It’s much more prevalent at night, when the track is faster and has more grip. Look at the All-Star Race last weekend: there’s a reason the Open was a more exciting race. The sun hadn’t set. It’s harder to pass and easier for cars to get strung out. Sure, the cars look pretty under the lights, and it’s cooler in the stands, but does that really balance out an inferior on-track show?
- If the cars can’t improve the racing, the schedule has to
There’s no simple fix to the on-track product. Street cars are very aerodynamically stable and therefore aero dependent. But if fans want cars that look more or less like the street versions, this will always be an issue. Yes, there are areas that could be changed, and the cars can be improved to some extent.
But a lot could be done with the schedule. More short tracks and road courses, fewer intermediates and the racing would be better. Jimmie Johnson said after the all star race the intermediates put on a specific type of show. Knowing that, perhaps the answer lies in working to reduce the number of these tracks. Which brings us to the biggest roadblock of all.
- A harder line is needed, but unlikely to happen
In order for there to be real change in the schedule, NASCAR needs to take the stance that Bill France took in the early days: my way or the highway. That means NASCAR needs to get tough with the track owners, chiefly Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and the France-family-owned International Speedway Corp., when it comes to the schedule. Right now, the track owners are dictating too much of it.
Moving a race shouldn’t be as simple as it seems to be now. NASCAR shouldn’t be allowing track owners to move any races to intermediate tracks from another style of track. SMI should have been made to take the second Las Vegas date from another of it’s 1.5-mile tracks, not the 1-mile flat oval at New Hampshire. No new track should be even considered as an addition to the schedule if it fits in that all-too-familiar 1.5 – 2-mile mold.
The issue here is that taking races from ISC tracks becomes a conflict of interest, and taking dates from anyone else elicits cries of foul from the owners, citing favoritism for ISC. For any meaningful change to happen, NASCAR would have to divorce itself from the interests of ISC and take a harder line with all track owners. This is how and where we race, and if you want a date, this is how it will happen.
A schedule overhaul would be a welcome change in the sport if done right. However, it would ruffle a lot of feathers, and that’s something NASCAR would have to take a tight hold on the reins for.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.